To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my own angst with money.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid. Money was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back by our parents to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and made my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes and supplies every school year. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was completely dependent on my own self to fund university, pay my bills and start a life. I was left with no sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. I had just enough sense to know paying my bills on time was paramount and if I had to work two jobs while at university so I could pay my rent and have money for books for class, I did it.

Looking back it’s no surprise my heart races when anything to do with finances, allowances and money comes up. This topic was a contentious issue with my parents. Bills always led to an argument and money was a stressor in our family life. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been fraught with tension.

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money as a woman starting her forties – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, for obvious reasons, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching my children about money so that they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money when I’m still trying to figure it out?

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit she tried, but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my futile attempts to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are often evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I have failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, was foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up, listening to three little voices and keep track of the amounts owed in my head gave me a headache. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance,” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already bought you a book via Scholastic from school last month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

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Ears are for listening. Listening to our kids.

January 16, 2013

“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”― Catherine M. Wallace

This morning was my volunteer time at Audrey’s school. I took on helping with their snack program when Elizabeth was in kindergarten and try to get in at least once a month. A wonderful program, it ensures at least twice a week the classes are all provided a healthy snack during their first nutrition break. The lady who has been running it since I started, pregnant with Jacob, is someone I admire. She has two kids, went back to work part-time, co-ordinates a few different programs at the school and still looks very unfazed when I see her rushing to drop off one thing or another in between work appointments. I sometimes wonder if she sleeps?

I wish I could do more at each of my girls respective schools, but juggling three different school schedules right now, this is the only thing I can commit to. Jacob is not the type of toddler I can have tag along to my activities. He can barely sit still at his own activities. I’ve seen other Mom’s bring the younger siblings along for the ride and admire the organized backpacks of snacks and activities. I wonder how they can get their children to sit still while they get their tasks completed. Bringing Jacob along (which has been suggested) would only be hard on me, Jacob and those around us. Thus, I plan my volunteer time around Jacob’s visits to nursery school with the hope that before too long I’ll be one of those parents who can come and spend a morning at my kids’ schools.

It is always enjoyable visiting the classroom and letting my daughter know I’m at the school. It’s also a rare chance to chat with some of the other parents at the school and Audrey’s teacher. Today she told me that she couldn’t believe how quickly Audrey was bringing back her reading club books. I just nodded and smiled saying, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her if she keeps this pace up!”

This is round two of our kids with this particular teacher. Mrs. R had the distinct pleasure of teaching Elizabeth for two years who became the Queen Bee in the classroom and Mrs. R was very good at recognizing Elizabeth’s need to have individual projects when she finished her work and helped build her presentation skills. We were thrilled with her as a teacher.  Audrey on the other hand is less of a show boat and takes a bit longer to warm up in a large group. Their class also has an increase in students this year, twenty-eight little children ranging in age from three to nearly six. At her fall meet-and-greet,  I actually had to point out to the teacher that Audrey could read most of the words on the word wall. She looked surprised and said, “Really? She hasn’t said a word!”

“No, she wouldn’t.” I replied reminding her how different she is than her sister. A week after that meeting, my four-year old was enrolled in the kindergarten reading club which was something typically only introduced to the majority of the students closer to the end of their first year of junior kindergarten. She hasn’t looked back.

One thing I am quickly learning as a parent is that you have to try to be as visible as you can to your children’s teachers and in their schools. Being involved as a parent and communicating with your children is also extremely important. I have a fairly good understanding of how each of my kids schools work, what the staff is like and just based on the simple questions like, “What was your favorite part of the day?” glean an abundance of information from my children.

When Elizabeth started school, we implemented a little chat time when she arrived home. Even when I was working part-time, usually from our home office, I would stop whatever I was doing to sit down with her for a few minutes to hear her answer to two standard questions, “What was your favorite part of the day?” and “What was your least favorite part of the day?” We continued that tradition and will continue it with all three of our children no matter how busy life gets. What better way to wind down an afternoon than with a cup of coffee listening to my little ones chatter about their days?

Today, after they are all home, we sit down at our long kitchen table that overlooks our backyard and a majestic maple and have a snack before homework time. It can be tricky to pay attention when one is telling me about a boy who pushed her on the bus and another is excitedly shouting about the snow crystals they made in class while Jacob wanting to be part of the conversation starts shouting to be heard. A steady flow of information is presented to me from these chats about their social interactions, school work, what the teachers were doing that day to how they loved I put a treat in their lunches. Two questions become a steady stream of conversation that I try to absorb and relay advice, encouragement or just listen when needed.

Being a Mom of three or more requires very precise listening ears. You need to know when one child needs a hug or another wants to be told again how smart she is and one just simply wants to be part of the conversation. All while dispensing snacks, trying to drink a last cherished cup of coffee for the day and attempting to organize the kitchen before dinner. Some days it feels as if I’m being pulled in three different directions, but I try my best and hope, as they get older we continue these types of conversations.

The three kids off to school.

The three kids off to school.